The Powerhouse acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands upon which our museums are situated. We respect their Elders, past, present and future and recognise their continuous connection to Country.
B1868 Inverted vertical steam engine, single-cylinder, metal / paint, [made by John Brown & Co Ltd, Clydebank, Glasgow, Scotland], 1910-1913, used on the battle cruiser HMAS Australia, 1913-1924. Click to enlarge.

Inverted vertical steam engine used on 1913 battle cruiser HMAS Australia

This is an example of the final generation of small reciprocating marine steam engines. It was a robust workhorse used on board Australia's 1913 battle cruiser, HMAS Australia, needing little attention apart from oiling and cleaning. Using small auxiliary steam engines alongside the large turbines that drove the ship simplified engine-room layout and operation as the turbines and engines could all be served by a central boiler. These qualities also made it useful for education at Sydney …


Object No.


Object Statement

Inverted vertical steam engine, single-cylinder, metal / paint, [made by John Brown & Co Ltd, Clydebank, Glasgow, Scotland], 1910-1913, used on the battle cruiser HMAS Australia, 1913-1924

Physical Description

This marine engine has its steam cylinder at the top, and the piston within it is linked to a low-set fully-enclosed crankshaft. In operation, the piston moved up and down, the motion of the connecting rod caused the crankshaft and attached flywheel to rotate, and an eccentric on the crankshaft opened and closed valves in a chest adjacent to the cylinder to admit steam to it with appropriate timing. The engine's base is extended, indicating that the engine was directly coupled to a piece of machinery on board HMAS Australia. A steam supply valve and two brass oilers are attached to the cylinder, and one oiler supplies the crankshaft. The engine in painted grey, and the steam supply valve casing is painted red.

The bore is 16.5 cm, stroke 12.7 cm, speed 435 rpm and mass 500 kg.

Interior details of this engine can be seen in images of object No. B1937, a matching engine with sectioned valve chest and crankcase.




The engine was made in the United Kingdom between 1910 and 1913. While it does not bear a maker's plate, it is likely that the engine was made by John Brown & Co. Ltd, the company contracted to build the ship on the Clyde River at Clydebank, near Glasgow, Scotland.

The plain aesthetic of the engine matches that of other engines made by John Brown, see Grace's Guide ( and shares the feature of round holes punched through opposite sides of the base, probably for inserting chains for lifting. Being made for a ship that John Brown was building could explain the lack of a maker's plate.

John Brown began as a steelmaker in Sheffield in 1844 and took over an existing shipyard in 1899 so it could continue selling armour plate to the navy by vertically integrating its steelworks with a shipbuilding operation. The company had an impressive display at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition and donated tested specimens of armour plate to the museum after that event: namely object numbers B1307 made from wrought iron and B1308 from iron and steel; the latter sustained much less damage than the former when an armour-piercing projectile (like object B1282) was shot at it.



The engine was installed on HMAS Australia during construction at John Brown's Clydebank Works in Scotland. An Indefatigable class battle cruiser, Australia was the first flagship of the Royal Australian Navy.

The ship was laid down in June 1910, launched in October 1911 and commissioned in June 1913. It served during the First World War, winning battle honours at Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, in 1914 and the North Sea from 1915 to 1918. After the War it served briefly as a gunnery training ship on Westernport Bay in Victoria.

The engine's role is unknown. The ship's motive power was provided by large steam turbines, and small engines like this were used to power auxiliary equipment.

British officials determined that the ship would be scuttled under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, a disarmament agreement aimed at reducing the chances of another world war. The treaty implicitly recognised that the rapid build-up of naval firepower had contributed to the pressure for war in 1914.

The German fleet was interned at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands of Scotland in 1918 and scuttled there by its own sailors in 1919 to prevent the ships becoming spoils of war. The Treaty of Versailles, signed a week later, severely restricted the ability of Germany to rebuild its navy. The Washington Treaty was signed in 1922 by the Allies who had fought Germany: the UK (representing the British Empire), USA, Japan, France and Italy. All agreed to destroy some of their own ships and restrict future naval expansion. Russia was not included in the treaty as war, revolution and post-war British action had left it with very few ships.

Navy personnel removed some equipment from the mothballed HMAS Australia before a Melbourne-based group of businessmen won the tender to remove further equipment and material. Led by salvage operator George Wright and supervised by naval officers, a team of men carried out this work at Sydney's Garden Island naval base. Some of the brass was fashioned into souvenirs to help the salvage syndicate recoup their investment. The ship was scuttled off the coast near Sydney in April 1924.

In August 1924 the Defence Department's Navy Office donated several items from the ship to this museum. Other salvaged equipment was donated to universities, technical colleges and municipalities. This engine was acquired at an unknown date by Sydney Technical College's School of Mechanical and Civil Engineering and used there for teaching purposes before being donated to the museum in 1970.


Credit Line

Gift of Sydney Technical College, 1970

Acquisition Date

7 July 1970

Cite this Object


Inverted vertical steam engine used on 1913 battle cruiser HMAS Australia 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 4 February 2023, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Inverted vertical steam engine used on 1913 battle cruiser HMAS Australia |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=4 February 2023 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}